Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXV, Nos. 523, 524 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 1999

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In this special double issue:

Reducing crime by aborting criminals.

Big rulings from the Court, with bigger ones to come.

Policing presents an unflattering profile.

A DWI strategy to make you sober up in a hurry.

COPS office takes some lumps, but loses little appeal.

Getting a head-start on year-end tech snafus.

The Y2K focus: First target the gremlins, then the terrorists.

New wrinkles in the fabric of the drug debate.

What color are your genes? More news on the DNA front.

Who’s looking over law enforcement’s shoulders? Lately, just about everyone.

Shooting gallery: A graphic roundup of the mass murders & spree shootings that colored 1999 blood red.

People & Places: Personalities who made 1999 distinctive.

Domestic abuse: New questions regarding a continuing problem.

The Columbine High School shooting catalyzes the gun issue.

Justice by the Numbers.

1999 — the year in review:
Driving while drunk — or while chatting

      Faster, yes. Drunker, no. Such was the capsule assessment of the nation’s driving behavior last year.
      According to preliminary statistics released in June by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, despite an unprecedented 2.6 trillion miles logged by drivers on America’s roads, the number of alcohol-involved crashes dropped from 16,189, or 38.5 percent of all fatal accidents, in 1997 to 15,936, or 38.4 percent, in 1998 — an all-time low since the Government began keeping track in 1975.
      But last year, estimates put the number of speeding tickets written by police across the country at 14.4 million, up 10 percent from just five years ago. Although law enforcement bristles at the suggestion that many of these tickets were the result of speed traps, a survey by the National Motorists Association found that the South last year led all regions of the country in ticket-writing, particularly South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. In some towns, the survey found, 95 percent of tickets were issued to out-of-towners. And in some cities, as much as 75 percent of local revenue was generated from traffic enforcement.
      “We aren’t trapping anyone,” said Peter Kelly, a former Los Angeles-area highway patrolman who heads the Law Enforcement Foundation. “The days of Barney Fife are over. Speed limit signs are posted everywhere, yet people blow right past them. What are officers supposed to do? Ignore the law?”
      An aggressive municipal policy aimed at taking drunken drivers off the road by separating them — perhaps permanently — from their vehicles withstood legal challenge last year in New York. In November, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a lower court’s earlier ruling that upheld New York City’s policy of seizing the cars of those accused of driving while drunk.
      The policy was announced in February by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who acted under a forfeiture law passed in 1943. Those found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or greater stood to lose their cars as part of what the Mayor called the “instrumentalities of a crime.” Using civil forfeiture laws, the vehicles are forfeited and sold at auction. What made the law unique was the city’s stated intention of keeping the cars even if criminal charges were dismissed or the defendant acquitted.
      By November, police had seized some 1,183 vehicles and made 2,514 DWI arrests.
      In March, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge rejected an argument by the New York Civil Liberties Union that a Staten Island man should have his car returned after police confiscated it on the first night of the law’s enforcement on Feb. 21. In NYCLU’s test case, 28-year-old Pavel Grinberg said he and his wife needed the vehicle to drive to work and shop. But the city’s corporation counsel successfully argued that the Grinbergs lived near public transportation and a number of supermarkets. The NYCLU filed a class-action suit on behalf of the 79 first-offenders who had their vehicles seized.
      The policy caught on with officials in neighboring Nassau County and was considered last year by officials in New York’s Westchester and Suffolk counties, as well. In Hoboken, N.J., Mayor Anthony Russo said the he had instructed his corporation counsel to look into the plan and see if there was a legal way to implement such a plan. “It may be doable,” added Mayor Bret D. Schundler of Jersey City. “It’s like seizing a drug dealer’s car. The argument is that it’s an instrument used in the commission of a crime.”

Driving while yapping
      Officials in Brooklyn, Ohio, were the first to do it, but other municipalities might follow their lead in outlawing talking on a cell phone while driving. On Sept. 1, the nation’s first ticket for the misdemeanor offense was handed out by a Brooklyn patrol officer. The fine was $3.
      “If you have to get to gabbing and yapping, pull to the side of the road,” said Brooklyn Mayor John Coyne, whose office window faces the Cleveland suburb’s main drag. “Every time a driver turns on one of those things, they’re asking for disaster.”
      Bills outlawing cell-phone use while driving were also pending in eight states. In New York City, cab drivers are prohibited from using them on the job, and in Aspen, Colo., all but hands-free phones are banned while driving.
      Although the telecommunications industry compares talking on the phone while driving to smoking, applying makeup and other common behind-the-wheel distractions, new figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that cell phones were a factor in 57 fatal accidents in 1997 — up from just seven in 1991. Although they accounted for just a fraction of traffic fatalities, NHTSA said cell phone-related accidents would probably account for a far higher number if they were tracked by states.
      On the other side of the coin, nearly 18 million emergency calls were made to 911 from cell phones during 1998, said NHTSA. Government officials added that cell phones, in some cases supplemented by enhanced 911 systems or global positioning system tracking technology, have helped improve police response time to accidents, alert police to crimes in progress and have helped rescue stranded motorists.

1999 — the year in review:
Despite hits, COPS office holds its appeal

Is the goal of the COPS office to fund 100,000 new officers or actually get them out on the street?

      While the “COPS Shop” — the Justice Department’s Office Community Oriented Policing Services — has lost little of its appeal to the thousands of law enforcement agencies around the country that have beefed up their ranks and upgraded their equipment with Federal grants, the program’s reputation emerged from 1999 a bit tarnished after Federal auditors charged that millions of dollars had been poorly administered by a number of police departments and that the Clinton Administration’s goal of putting 100,000 new officers on the street by 2000 would fail to be met.
      Auditors questioned $52 million in costs, and said another $71 million could have been put to better use by some 149 municipal and county law enforcement agencies selected for examination during a two-year period from October 1996 through September 1998. The dollar amount accounted for 10 percent of the funds the COPS office had committed for the program.
      The report, released in April by Inspector General Michael Bromwich, found that 14 percent of the audited agencies overestimated salaries and benefits on the grant applications, leading to questions surrounding the use of excess money. More than half of the grantees had included unallowable costs in claims for reimbursement, including overtime, uniforms and unauthorized fringe benefits. Of the 67 agencies that had received technology-improvement grants under the COPSMORE (Making Officer Redeployment Effective) program, 52 had been unable to demonstrate that officers had been redeployed or that a system was in place for tracking them once they switched to community policing duties.
      Other findings in report included a pervasive failure to develop good-faith plans to retain officers, an inability by many grantees to distinguish their post-grant mode of operations from the pre-grant mode, and evidence that more than a third of the grantees had used the money to supplant rather than supplement local funds.
      The COPS office, then headed by former Hayward, Calif., police chief Joseph Brann, who left the post to almost no fanfare early in the year and was replaced just as quietly in October by former Baltimore police commissioner Thomas Frazier, took issue with several of the audit’s findings. COPS officials said the grantees that were audited constituted only a tiny fraction of the 11,000 policing agencies receiving COPS funding. In addition, they claimed in 100 of the 149 cases selected for examination, the program’s administrators themselves had suggested they be looked into for compliance.
      As it turned out, many of the departments that were audited were surprised to find themselves in a list of noncompliant agencies. In many cases, police chiefs believed that earlier issues concerning their management of Federal funding had been straightened out. Said Bristol, Va., Police Chief William Price, whose agency was one of those red-flagged by the auditors: “We made some mistakes. There were some administrative errors made as far as billing. We took care of the things with the Federal people and corrected it. That’s the long and short of it.”
      Indeed, officials from Bromwich’s office admitted that in some cases, they were not told that problems concerning grantees had been satisfactorily resolved. “We come in as outside auditors, do the audit, give it back to the COPS office and the grantee and say, ‘Fix it,’” said Paul Martin, special counsel to the I-G’s office.
      Bromwich also questioned whether several thousand officers already funded by the COPS officewould “ever materialize.” The I-G’s office estimated that by 2000, the deadline set for the program, some 72,000 additional officers, not 100,000 would be deployed. “COPS officials informed us that their goal is to fund 100,000 new officers by the end of 2000,” he said in July. “That is significantly different from having 100,000 new officers hired and actually deployed to the streets by the end of 2000, a goal stated publicly by COPS and Administration officials.”
      Dan Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the COPS office, acknowledged that there had been some “confusion” about the program’s goals over the past few years. The enabling legislation passed in 1994 stated only that the program would be funded by 2000. The full complement of officers would be deployed by 2002.
      In November, President Clinton signed the Fiscal Year 2000 budget, extending the COPS program for at least one more year — although the Administration has been pushing for a five-year renewal of its flagship crime-reduction program. The budget package provided some $913 million to COPS, including $300 million to add new officers; $180 million to hire school resource officers; $40 million to enhance law enforcement in tribal communities; and $10 million to hire community prosecutors.

1999 — the year in review:
Trouble on the line

      Some of the nation’s police agencies did not have to wait until 2000 and the feared arrival of the Y2K bug to see if their 911 systems would be operational — the problems came much earlier in the year.
      On Jan. 21, New York City officials rejected an appeal by MCI Systemhouse, the company that built the city’s E-911 system, after the company was omitted from a $10.3-million contract to provide upgrades. The contract was terminated after five years because of a year’s worth of costly delays in service. A one-hour failure of 911 service was blamed for a Jan. 31 incident in which a man died of a heart attack after his companion was unable to reach an emergency dispatcher.
      The problems persisted throughout the spring and summer, leaving technicians confounded and city officials infuriated as emergency service was knocked out or delayed on at least four occasions. The snafus also led to fingerpointing among the companies involved in the creation of the system. On Aug. 1, 40 emergency dispatchers protested working conditions outside the communications facility in Brooklyn. Calls are routinely put on hold for as long as 20 minutes because there are not enough people to answer them. Dispatchers who refused to work overtime, they said, were threatened with the loss of their jobs.
      Problems in other cities included: A new Dallas Police Department emergency dispatch policy had to be reversed because it had resulted in a longer response times. The new policy gave officers the opportunity to “call-shop,” picking and choosing which calls they would respond to. It also left many crisscrossing the city and wasting valuable time driving. Instead, the department sought to reassign a greater number of patrol officers to respond to calls, and Police Chief Ben Click said he would ask the deputy chiefs in charge of the city’s six patrol stations to add additional officers from other assignments.
      Contract disputes threatened to derail a plan to upgrade the Connecticut State Police’s communication system for the first time since 1940. The upgrade would have eliminated a potentially dangerous problem for troopers who are unable to maintain radio communication through large portions of some towns — areas referred to as “dead zones.” The contract disagreement centered on state officials’ demands that Motorola Inc. guarantee that the new system would cover 98 percent of the state. Motorola wanted the police to increase the number of frequencies and transmitter towers or be satisfied with less than 98 percent coverage, according to Public Safety Commissioner Henry C. Lee.